Goethe's Conception of Knowledge and Science

Goethe's Conception of Knowledge and Science

Goethe's Conception of Knowledge and Science

Goethe's Conception of Knowledge and Science

Synopsis

This study is the first to examine the cultural significance of Goethe's scientific work. It looks at the subtle distinctions he made between enlightenment science and Romanticism's nature philosophy.

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to identify the cultural significance of Goethe's scientific writings. My aim is not to argue for the validity of either Goethe's findings or his ideas. The latter are, as H. B. Nisbet Goethe and the Scientific Tradition convincingly demonstrated over twenty years ago, in any case largely derivative; and the former continue to be controversial amongst those competent to judge, namely the scientific community and its historians. My concern here is rather with the abiding, indeed to my mind increasing, significance of Goethe's method of acquiring meaningful knowledge. What follows consists in a rereading of Goethe's writings on nature, in the long historical perspective in which he himself set them, as an appropriate cultural response to what he held was the inherently reproductive character of life. Natural phenomena, in Goethe's view, provoke reproduction: a natural object, as he puts it, is something that elicits representation ('das Darzustellende'). Intensely aware, long before Bergson, of the severe distortions made by the essentially spatial metaphors with which discursive language operates, Goethe, I argue, deployed a novel mode of writing (theoretically elaborated by Schiller during their collaboration as 'aesthetic discourse' -- 'schöner Vortrag') in order to re-enact, in language at least, something of the complex interchange in natural process, while at the same time describing with eminent clarity the character of its products.

My indebtedness to published work will, I hope, be clear enough from the many acknowledgements below to a whole array of scholars, including those whose primary aim -- of arguing for the scientific . . .

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